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I have a parallel blog in French at http://anniebannie.net

Date

January 1, 2010

Protests held against Gaza siege

Members of Gaza Freedom March, denied entry to Gaza, demonstrated in Cairo [Ali Abunimah]

Activists, both from Gaza and abroad, have held demonstrations on either side of an Israeli border crossing to the Palestinian territory, protesting against its continued siege by Israel.

Hundreds of protesters gathered around the Erez crossing on Thursday, to denounce the blockade that has caused immense suffering to those living in Gaza.

Nisreen el-Shamayleh, Al Jazeera’s correspondent who was on the Israeli side of the crossing, estimated that about 600 protesters were present, many from mainly Arab neighbourhoods in East Jerusalem.

“They represent Israeli-Palestinians as well as other Arab civil society organisations inside Israel and also with the support of some Israeli groups,” she said.

“Their major demand is for Israel to stop the siege on Gaza and to stop the suffocation of Gazans living under this blockade. They’re also calling on the international community to intervene.”

The Gaza Strip has been under Israeli blockade since 2007 when Hamas seized power in the territory.

The Erez crossing is the main entry and exit point to and from Gaza used by medical patients, journalists, diplomats and aid groups.

International support

On the Gaza side of the border, the demonstration was slower to get started, but protesters there were joined by 86 activists from the Gaza Freedom March, an international group that has been trying to get into Gaza with food and supplies.

Most of the Gaza Freedom March’s 1,300-strong group were refused entry into Gaza by Egypt, which controls the Rafah crossing point, because of what Egyptian authorities said was the “sensitive situation” in the territory.

in depth

Many of those remaining in Egypt held separate demonstrations in Cairo.

Ali Abunimah, the co-founder of the Electronic Intifada website, who was at the Cairo protest, told Al Jazeera the group had been surrounded by the police.

“I’ve spoken to some people who were pushed or kicked by police and a few people have [had] their cameras taken away,” he said.

“I’d say there are about 200 people here. We had anticipated quite a few more, but earlier today police barricaded some of the hotels where we are staying … I can’t tell you how many people have been prevented from joining us.”

A separate aid convoy has also been trying to reach Gaza through Jordan’s Red Sea port of Aqaba.

Lorries from the Viva Palestina convoy began crossing from Jordan into Syria on Thursday.

The events around Gaza coincide with the one-year anniversary of Israel’s devastating 22-day war on Gaza which left about 1,300 Palestinians dead. Thirteen Israelis also died in the conflict.

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Shoeless in Cairo

Written by Mary Hughes-Thompson, part of the GFM convoy that has been trying to
get into Gaza.

In about an hour the Gaza Freedom Marchers in Cairo will be meeting in Tahrir
Square to celebrate the beginning of 2010. January 1st will be the fifth day
of my hunger strike.

It was an eventful and exhilarating day for all of us here in Cairo. This
morning we began to arrive in small groups at a couple of locations in downtown
Cairo, intending to join and up and begin a solidarity march to Gaza. We
didn’t expect to get far before being stopped, so we took what things we had
that would make it easier to spend the night in the street. As soon as we got
out of our taxi near the Museum, Hedy and I and Hedy’s two friends from St
Louis were immediately surrounded by security police who tried to lead us away
from the area.

All around us we saw other small groups receiving the same reception. After
sitting on a bench in front of the Nile Hilton for half an hour, with half a
dozen police standing close and trying to persuade us to continue walking away,
we suddenly saw a surge of people crossing the street a few yards from us, and
we quickly rushed to join them. Free Gaza signs appeared, chants of “Free
Gaza” were heard. Passengers in cars and buses gave us a wave and a smile. We
were immediately encircled by several hundred policemen who placed barriers
around us and began to push us more tightly together. We tried to keep space
around Hedy, as we were pushed and squeezed. I feared my ribs would be
crushed as I was squeezed tighter and closer to people around me. A few people
fell or tried to sit in the middle of the circle and the police went after
them.

Suddenly I was pushed to the ground and fell flat on my face. As people around
me were pushed more tightly to the center, I feared I would be trampled.
Perhaps the police thought I had been sitting, because they grabbed my arms and
began to drag me along the ground. I felt my one shoe fall off, then the other
I tried to hang onto my things as some French people came to my rescue,
reaching out to help lift me to my feet, then leading me away next to the wall
and away from the police.

My shoes and my cane were swallowed up and could not be located amid the mass
of people. We stayed together for many hours, held tightly in our circle by
the police. It was very warm, but as always spirits were high, some enormous
signs were raised by young men who climbed the only tree we had in our
enclosure. It was a laurel tree, and many people raised branches above their
heads as we called for peace and freedom for Gaza. At the moment we knew the
march was taking place inside Gaza we chanted again: Free Gaza, Free Gaza.
Someone began to play an accordian, and I was pulled, shoeless, into a circle
of women, including Hedy, as we danced in a circle while people around us
cheered.

Eventually, after several hours, some members of American Veterans for Peace
who had been watching over Hedy persuaded her it would be safer if she left.
They felt the police were getting more threatening and were worried they
wouldn’t be able to keep her safe if we were rushed and attacked. Hedy
reluctantly agreed to go outside the circle to talk to some press who wanted to
interview her, so Hedy, Sandra, J’Ann and I were, after some negotiations,
escorted outside where Hedy was greeted by reporters.

So here I stay in Cairo, grateful to be merely shoeless, somewhat bruised and
only slightly battered, still strong and determined, proud and humbled to be a
part of this amazing family that has come together from around the world to
stand in solidarity with Gaza, Palestine and to remember what happened in Gaza
a year ago. We may not get to Gaza this time, but we believe we have made a
joyful noise in Cairo.

Happy New Year everybody. Free Gaza. Free Palestine.

PS: One of my shoes was later found.

From Cairo

SEVEN protestors were injured as Egyptian plain clothes police turned violent at a Cairo street demonstration organised by peace activists. Nearly a thousand Gaza Freedom Marchers, representing 42 different nationalities, brought the Egyptian capital to a standstill at one point when they sat down on a main road in Tahrir Square. The surprise demonstration took Cairo police by surprise after they blockaded a hotel nearby where nearly 30 of the GFM were staying. Around 700 maintained their sit-in for 20 minutes until police reinforcements arrived to remove the defiant peace activists who were chanting: “We want to march to Gaza.” Mick Napier, the chair of the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign said: “The police used excessive force and at one stage several female protestors were punched and kicked. A couple had their hijabs ripped away from their head. “Many of us were taken aback by the naked aggression of the police as this was a non-violent protest. Around 1400 of us arrived in Cairo a few days ago to go to Gaza but a travel ban was imposed and we’ve been stuck in the capital.”

Let Gaza live: US rally lights vigils for Palestine

Hundreds of demonstrators have gathered in Washington calling for an end to Israel’s blockade on Gaza. It comes after the first anniversary of the beginning of the war between Israel and Hamas.

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